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SOS Rhino : In the News : UK R&D firms urged to help solve China’s endangered animal crisis

UK R&D firms urged to help solve China’s endangered animal crisis

By Kirsty Barnes

UK and Chinese R&D firms are this week being urged to band together to develop alternatives to the practice of using endangered animal parts to feed the vast traditional Chinese medicine industry.

The UK's department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has offered to partly fund new Chinese/UK academic collaborations to expand upon its existing research on plant-substance alternatives.

Defra said that later this year it also plans to invite expressions of interest for other related Chinese/UK collaborative projects to be conducted as part of its 2007/08 2008/09 research programmes.

It is hoped that finding synthetic or plant-derived alternatives will stamp out the illegal trade in parts and derivatives of endangered animals in China.

“Traditional” drugs are big business in China and other Asian countries, with one quarter of all drug sales in China coming from this market segment.

However, products from several endangered species are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, including bear bile (xiong dan) and rhino horn (xi jiao) for anti-inflammatory and fever-reducing remedies and tiger bone (hu gu), which is used as an anti-rheumatic/anti-arthritic.

These particular species of animal are listed under Appendix 1 of CITES, the most critical category of endangerment.

"Globally, the popularity of traditional medicine is increasing and a continued demand for these products poses an ongoing and major threat to the survival of endangered animals,” said UK Biodiversity Minister, Barry Gardiner.

In particular, he singled out the demand for bear bile acid: “The bear bile trade is a significant threat to the Asiatic Black Bear, or Moon Bear,” he said.

“Bear bile acid has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for 3,000 years, however, Chinese doctors agree that the characteristics of bear bile acid can easily be replicated by herbal and synthetic alternatives which are cheaper, more readily available and just as effective.”

Gardiner is this week is in Beijing meeting with the Vice Minister of the State Forestry Administration, Mr Zhao Xuemin, as part of his visit to the Far East to drive home the importance of the prevention of wildlife crime and sustainable forestry.

In a gesture of willingness to tackle the issue, Minister Zhao announced he would reduce the existing number of bear farms from 68 to approximately 20.

"Whilst I welcome Minister Zhao's commitment to me to reduce the existing number of bear farms, the trade in bear products does not appear to be diminishing,” said Gardiner.

"If we do not tackle the underlying problem and face up to the reality of needing to find viable alternatives, we risk driving these species to the brink of extinction."

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